Thursday, August 25, 2016

Naomi, conclusion


Last time we studied, we noted that Naomi was having a difficult time, and was actually beginning to look for someone to blame for her troubles. She had been strong for so long, and had been an example to Ruth of vibrant faith, but now she was (understandably) tired.

Many people have found that the best way to get over our problems, our depression, our emotional deep-dives is to stop focusing on ourselves, and to look outside of our own issues. To change that focus to others' needs. And then to get involved helping those people.

As Naomi re-enters her home town and picks up the pieces of her life, she is concerned about Ruth's future. She knows this young woman needs a husband. So yes, Naomi fell, but now she is picking herself up and shifting her concern to Ruth. Naomi is thinking about Boaz -- will he be their kinsman redeemer? A kinsman redeemer is a near relative who had the right (and it was also considered a duty) to redeem a deceased man's land and marry his widow if she had no sons. Now, this actually could be applied to Naomi, too, but she is more concerned about Ruth.

Ruth goes out into the fields to glean. This was a way for the poor to be provided for - God instituted this as a part of His instructions to the children of Israel. He gold them in Leviticus that when the time of harvest came, they were not to harvest to the edges -- that was to be left for the poor, who could come into the field behind the harvesters and glean those small amounts to use for themselves. But when Ruth comes back from her day of gleaning, Naomi can tell that she has WAY more than more people would get from gleaning! She realizes that it's not just luck -- she says in verses nineteen and twenty of chapter two that she knows it's the Lord working in their lives to help and restore them.

When we study Ruth herself, we will see more of the story, but for now, our focus is on Naomi. We see that Boaz fulfills his right and duty, and that he and Ruth are married. And we see Naomi holding a precious grandson! The family line would not only continue, but would be in the family tree of Jesus Christ.

Naomi's story tells us again that our God can bring great good out of bad things. He is still in the business of doing that today. We just have to trust Him to know what to do, and when, and even how.

Naomi fell, but she didn't stay down. She's an awesome example for our lives today.



Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Naomi, continued


Last time we looked at the life of Naomi, we considered the huge upheaval that she had experienced. In a time of horrific famine, she and her husband had left home, family, and friends, and had taken their two sons with them. They had traveled to the country actually controlled by enemies of their people; they went to Moab. They lived there for a good number of years, for the passage told us that their sons had taken wives from the Moabite people.

Then her husband, Elimilech, passed away. Later on, her two sons, Mahlon and Kilion, died. What a tragedy. What a burden on her soul that must have been. Times must have seemed very dark to her, and to her two daughters-in-law. We will see that she must have been a good example of her faith in Yahweh, though. (I'm getting ahead of myself in the story, here.)

I believe that it must have taken a good bit of courage for Naomi to go back to the tribe of Ephraim, to the town of Bethlehem. I mean, she'd been away for a very long time, and she couldn't really know what she was going home to.  Have you ever gone back to a place that you lived or visited in the past, only to realize that you hardly recognize the place? And don't even think about trying to find the people that you knew or met -- good luck with that! Things change so much. And it seems to happen so quickly.

Not only that, but it took courage to go back because of her status. She was now a widow; she was standing on the lowest rung of the ladder, so to speak. This was a time when the people of Israel were wicked, and few followed the Law. She would be vulnerable to the folks who would want to take advantage of her, and of her daughters-in-law.

She showed even more courage when she was planning her trip home and told her daughters in law to go back to their own families, to stay in Moab. Instead of telling them about the dangers ahead for a single, widowed woman, and "guilting" them into coming with her, she was perfectly willing to go alone. She encouraged them to go back to their mothers, and to find other husbands from the men of Moab. Orpah and Ruth first said they would go with her, but as Naomi talked, it made more sense to Orpah to stay in Moab. After all, as Naomi said, even if she could find a husband and have sons, they would have to wait until they were marriageable age . . . Orpah hugged her and said she would stay in Moab.

Ruth, however, must have noticed the strong faith of Naomi. She must have seen how Naomi handled the tragedies and been impressed. How do we know that? She tells Naomi that not only does she want to go with her, but that she wants to accept her God, as well.
But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely,if even death separates you and me.” 18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her. (Ruth 1:16-18)
Ruth went back with her to Bethlehem. Naomi did not go alone. And that is a good thing, for I believe that she really needed Ruth with her. She was at a very low point in her life, and it seems that her faith began to waver just a little bit.
I'm sure that it was difficult, walking back into Bethlehem. As she walked those familiar streets and saw some familiar faces, she may have been overcome with memories. It may have been hard to see the old places through her tears, as she came back home without her husband and her two sons.

Have you ever been patting yourself on the back for how well you are handling a tough situation, and then one of your close friends or your spouse comes in the room and hugs you? Isn't that when your tears and emotions just let loose like a flooded river? I think that is what happened to Naomi here. She actually seems to blame God for her misfortune. She's feeling bad, so let's not jump to judge her, but she tells her friends that her old name just doesn't fit anymore. . . . instead of calling her Naomi (pleasant) she says they should call her Mara (bitter one).

Well, to tell the truth, we probably all feel that way sometimes. We may or we may not come out and say it like Naomi did, but if the heart aches and the obstacles and disappointments start to pile up, we might begin to waver a bit. We might begin to have doubts. Hey, we might even begin to feel angry!

Wait just a minute.
Do NOT pretend with God.
He knows our hearts, anyway.
Those are the times when we should tell Him how we feel. He doesn't want us to pretend. He would rather have us share our hearts with Him. We know with our heads that He is big enough, and that His shoulders are strong enough, to handle our fears and our doubts. But we need to get that head knowledge into our hearts, and then realize that He understands what we are going through. It's OK to let it all out with Him.
Remember what He told us in Matthew 11?
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)
You see, if we have doubts, and if we have fears, that is not sinful. We are not failures in His eyes. Do you recall when you learned to ride a bicycle? We all had to learn that, and we all had times that we fell down! But the trick was this: we didn't stay down. We got back up, brushed ourselves off, bandaged a scrape if we needed to, and then tried again! If we stay "down" in our fears and doubts, that is when we have failed.

Some of us may be down in our faith right now. We may be on our knees, or even on our backs. Will we stay down? Will we feel sorry for ourselves? Or will we brush ourselves off and struggle back to our feet? If we keep on struggling and trying, that is when we can grow in our faith.

We'll see tomorrow that Naomi didn't stay down....


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Prayer requests


Recently I was reading in Psalms and re-read this passage:
The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. (Psalm 18:2)
And this one:
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,    my God, in whom I trust.” Psalm 91:1-2)
There are other verses that capture this same idea. With so many references to our Father God being a refuge, a fortress, a stronghold, perhaps we do well to remind ourselves.

I don't know what all of the people who read this post are going through. I know that it's quite possible that you are having a rough go of it, and that you might need to hear this. So please let me tell you again what you have heard before!

The picture above is of a very real place in Israel. It's the fortress called Masada. It is there that the Romans had their final victory over the Hebrew rebels, in about 73AD. (Yes, I know, I'm being politically incorrect.) It's a huge mountain with a plateau at the top, and Herod had built a palace, baths, etc there. The Jewish rebels were determined not to be conquered, but to live and worship ruled only by God.

The only way up to Masada is a tiny path called "the Snake." I believe I've read that it was so twisty, and so narrow, that it was impossible for two people to walk side-by-side up the path. Now picture the Roman armies, who are used to marching and attacking in large groups -- soldiers marching side-by-side with shields held before them. There was no way to use their usual tactics here! And that is what led to the long siege of Masada.

That siege had an unhappy ending, but when the devil or our circumstances (or both) besiege us, we can have victory --
“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;    I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call on me, and I will answer him;    I will be with him in trouble,    I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him    and show him my salvation.” (Psalm 91:14-16)
Like Naomi in our studies this week, we can be surrounded by terrible things happening, but we can have victory in the Lord!

Please, if you are overwhelmed and we can pray with you, let us know. It's an honor to join in prayer with other believers. If you have a praise, of answered prayer, let us rejoice with you, too!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Naomi


This week, we will visit with a character from the book of Ruth. Naomi is our focus; she and Ruth lived during the period of the Judges of Israel. This was a time which was characterized by the fact that everyone did what was "right in their own eyes," and standards of right and wrong were almost non-existent.

Let's look at the Scriptures and begin:
In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land.So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband. (Ruth 1:1-5)

I hope you will keep your Bible open to the book of Ruth, for we will refer to it again. . . .

Have you ever been in a situation when it seemed like things just couldn't get worse? When so many things went wrong, that you became overwhelmed?

Yes, I know. (I see y'all nodding.) I've been there, too. And all of us will probably be there again before it's time to go home to heaven. I guess that is where the expression comes from: when it rains, it pours.
There are times in our lives when things get pretty tough, but I guess we shouldn't be surprised, right? After all, Satan is said to be prowling the earth, seeking people to devour, and then here in James, we read this:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  (James 1:2-4)
Ay yi yi.
Why do these bad things happen to good people?
Well, one reason is what we just read in James . . . God does not cause bad things to happen to us, but He allows them and then He uses them. And it is that process that has puzzled believers and empowered un-believers for many years. Un-believers point to that and say, "How can He be a good God, a God Who loves everyone, when He allows these things to happen?"

Steve Malone has said that for every non-Christian who gets cancer, a Christian gets cancer -- so that the world can see the difference.
For every non-Christian that gets fired from her job, a Christian gets fired, so that the world can see the difference.
He just may be correct.

In our verses, we see Naomi going through a huge upheaval in her life. Her home town of Bethlehem (house of bread is the meaning of the word) was suffering with the rest of the land as a severe famine took hold. The region has two rainy seasons: October and March. If the rains did not come plentifully at these times, or if there was hail or other storms, or if marauding armies trampled the growing crops, the people were left hungry.
Apparently it was so bad this time that Elimilech took his wife and his two sons and went to Moab. Why was this significant? Because Moab was an enemy of God's people. They had oppressed Israel for almost twenty years under the leadership of King Eglon.

So, not only did Naomi endure a famine, leave her home and friends to go live in enemy territory, but while there she endured the death of her husband and both her sons. It's easy to see why she said her name should now be called "Mara" or bitter.

We'll learn more about Naomi next time. I hope you will study with us!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Friday slowdown

This older worship song was special to me recently. I hope it blesses you, as well.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Priscilla - pulling together


Our studies yesterday showed us that Priscilla and her husband were no strangers to service; their spiritual gifts enabled them to minister and to serve.

If we take a peek at the chapters preceding this one, we see that Paul had run into a peck of trouble. We can see that God brought Priscilla and Aquila into his life at just the right time.....
Remember back in chapter sixteen? Paul was thrown into prison and beaten within an inch of his life, as my gramma used to say. Then, at the start of chapter seventeen, a Thessalonican mob besieges the home in which he seeks shelter and hospitality, but he escapes into the night.
Later in chapter seventeen, Paul makes it as far as Berea, and has success, but again, trouble follows him. He is meeting great obstacles in Athens in the remainder of the chapter.

I expect that when he came to Corinth, he may have been just short of extreme exhaustion, and that he is not only physically tired, but mentally, too. He's traveling alone, after all. But now his path crosses that of this sweet couple. It seems that God uses them to encourage Paul in his work. With their help, and the strength that only God can give, he begins to preach in the synagogue in Corinth, and people are becoming believers.

But again, in verse 9, there must be things not detailed in our Bibles, for there are trials and difficulty coming Paul's way. But this time, he is not alone. Of course, Paul has always known that God is with him, but now he has mortal friends as well. Priscilla and Aquila are there, pulling together with him. They responded in obedience to the Lord, and used their gifts to encourage and minister to the missionary, Paul.

There may be people that we know who are quietly struggling. Whether it's the pastor of our church, the lady up the street, or the teen in a home that's breaking up, people can be just at the brink of calling it quits. They may be ready to walk away from everything they know, because the pressures of life are just crushing them. They feel as if they are all alone -- they desperately need someone to care.
They feel like David did:
Look and see, there is no one at my right hand;    no one is concerned for me.I have no refuge;    no one cares for my life. (Psalm 142:4) 
These are people that God has placed within our spheres of influence; these are people that we can encourage. It doesn't take long to send an email, and it doesn't cost much to send a card. It costs nothing to send a quick text message, inviting someone to talk. Letting someone know that you are thinking of them, and that you care, can mean all the difference in the world!
Like cold water to a weary soul    is good news from a distant land. (Proverbs 25:25)

We see Priscilla's (and Aquila's) discernment in the final episode of chapter eighteen. Apollos had come from Alexandria; well educated and eloquent, and speaking with a pure heart, he moved his hearers. But he lacked a complete knowledge of the full story of Jesus Christ. Priscilla and Aquila discerned that his motives were pure and genuine, and they came alongside him to instruct him. Not in public, to humiliate him, but privately, to invest in him and the ministry he could have. This is another role that is important among believers today -- that of lovingly mentoring younger Christians. Ensuring their growth in the Lord.  Need some inspiration? Check out our instructions in the second chapter of Titus!
Remember in Romans 14, Paul is talking about our spheres of influence?
For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. (Romans 14:7)
In today's language, each one of us is being influenced, and at the same time, influencing others! I heard an old preacher say that each of us will go to Heaven with the hand prints of others on us. They have been used of God to help us, rebuke us, encourage us, instruct us, and stand by us when we feel we are alone. When we are open to what God wants us to do with our gifts, it's as if we pour a little of ourselves into another's life.

Priscilla and Aquila had been open to God's leadership and went with Paul to Ephesus. Then they were there when Apollos came, and their instructions helped and encouraged him. The Bible says that Apollos went on to have a great influence on the area, as an effective preacher of God's gospel.
When everyday people take time to invest in others, what a difference we can make in our world!

Has God brought someone to mind that you can bless with encouragement? Let's all pull together for the kingdom of God!